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Embracing Your Jewish Identity

This story was published in the Baltimore Jewish Times.

By Sara Rike

The cheer "Identity, identity, who am I? A BBG" has become prominent in every BBG's life. (BBG is the girl's division of BBYO.) Being Jewish isn't just a phrase, it's who you are. From May 15 to 17, more than 60 Jewish teens from BBYO Baltimore Council had the opportunity to go to this year's Council Convention at Camp Louise. The teens definitely cheered this cheer loudly, and this time they took it to heart.

Being Jewish hasn't always been easy for me. My middle school had just four Jewish kids including me. I didn't know quite how to encompass my heritage. But when high school rolled around, I became a part of BBYO. BBYO has given me so many opportunities to embrace my Jewish heritage. Council Convention was one of them.

We passed around a house made of paper and talked about when we felt most welcomed. We then signed the house with our names in a heart: BBYO is our heart and home. Some girls mentioned how they felt welcomed when they traveled to Israel. When one girl visited, she was extremely nervous, but as soon as she walked in the door of her host family's home, she was treated with the utmost respect and hospitality. The family embraced her with open arms. This is what BBYO continually does for me.

I want others to know that being Jewish shouldn't be something to hide. I know that when I was in middle school, I was hesitant to share my thoughts about religion. I was even worried about inviting my friends to my bat mitzvah, but they ended up being very supportive, and I am eternally grateful. But, to the Jews who don't have the kind of friends that I had in middle school, I want them to know that in BBYO, you can embrace your Jewish identity to the fullest.

Unfortunately, Jews in some other countries are not as lucky as we are. They are constantly fearful of being caught with a Torah in their hand or a yarmulke on their head. In places such as Turkey, where anti-Semitism exists, Jews take many precautions to hide their identities.

It is gatherings such as the Council Convention that make me feel proud to be a Jew. When I'm in the middle of a cheer circle, screaming BBG spirit songs at the top of my lungs, I know, more than the fact that my throat will be sore the next day, that I am a part of something bigger than myself. And that feels pretty good.

Being Jewish is so much more than synagogues and matzo ball soup. Being Jewish can be anything you want it to be. I love being Jewish, and I embrace that every day of my life. I want to make sure that others are doing the same.

Sara Rike is a freshman at Franklin High School and a member from Orali BBG in the Northern Region East: Baltimore Council. To learn more about BBYO, contact Danielle Hercenberg, BBYO Baltimore Council regional director, at bmore@bbyo.org or call 410-559-3549.

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